ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Dr. Kaufmann Memorial Photos & Videos - Jewish Census Takers

Last night we held a very meaningful gathering in memory of Dr. David Kaufmann. Over 100 people came together at Chabad House to honor his life and memory. Heartfelt words were shared by Chabad Shluchim, community members and Tulane alumni, as well as a video message from a member of the family. Hundreds of people were watching around the world as the event was being live streamed on Facebook and over 1,000 have viewed it since the event concluded. A beautiful slideshow of photos from Dr. Kaufmann’s life and work in the community was shown. A booklet of selected writings was printed as a memento of the evening. It was truly an outpouring of love and gratitude to David and his family.

Pictures of the event can be viewed at

The video and the slide show of the event can be accessed via

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the census that was taken of the Jewish people in the Sinai desert. Generally when we think of census workers, we are thinking newly employed, semi-retired, or temps that are hired to do the tedious work of census taking. It is hardly a glamorous job and certainly not a very stimulating task. It means walking from door to door and asking the same questions over and over again, and dealing with the moods of the folks answering (or not answering) the doors on which they knocked.

Contrast that with the instructions Hashem gives for the census of the Jewish people. Hashem commands Mosher to conduct the census himself, and because the job is too big for one person, he instructs him to take Aharon the High Priest as an assistant. Just in case the job of counting over 600,000 households is too big for two people, Hashem assigns the princes of the twelve tribes as associate census takers. So essentially you have the top brass, the king, the high priest and the aristocracy of the Jewish nation doing the grunt work of census taking.

Why is this so? To Hashem, the Jewish people are so precious that counting them deserves to be performed only by the greatest of leaders. This idea is expressed in the following well-known story.

For years, on Sunday afternoons, the Rebbe would greet and bestow a blessing and dollar bill for Tzedakah upon anyone who came to see him. He would often stand for hours as thousands of people filed by, many of them seeking a blessing or advice about a personal matter. The Rebbe was once asked how he had the strength to stand all day, sometimes for seven or eight hours, to accommodate everyone. The Rebbe beamed and replied: “When you’re counting diamonds you don’t get tired.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Shavu-what? A Major Jewish Holiday

We all agree that our Jewish identity is important to us. We also accept that our identity as a people (nation, religion, ethnicity – however you wish to be defined) is significantly shaped by the Torah. Certainly our religious identity is based entirely on the Torah. It is safe to state, that even our cultural identity, value systems, moral structures etc. are heavily influenced (if not entirely defined) by the Torah. Based on the above, the most important moment in our history is the Revelation at Sinai, when the Torah was given to us.

Aside from the fact that, as mentioned, the body of teaching (Torah) that is most influential in defining every aspect of ourselves was given to us at that time, Revelation at Sinai was also the point that formalized and cemented our covenant with G-d. Essentially, Revelation as Sinai redefined and crystalized our unique relationship with Hashem.

Now we have a holiday that marks this monumental experience. It is known as Shavuot. While the Torah ascribes additional reasons for this holiday, undoubtedly its primary characterization is Z’man Matan Torah – the season of the giving of the Torah. One would think that such an important occasion would have a meteoric rise to the top of the holiday hierarchy in Jewish life. Yet, when polling a sampling of Jews, one will inevitably find that Shavuot finds itself way down the list of holidays that are celebrated. Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah, Purim, and even Sukkot will all most likely be listed before Shavuot in terms of relevance and observance. I am not here to analyze why this is so, nor am I here to lament that this is so. I am simply here today to encourage us all to reprioritize Shavuot for ourselves this year.

Decades ago, the Rebbe came out with a campaign to encourage every Jew, man, woman and child, to be present in the Synagogue on Shavuot for the reading of the Ten Commandments – the re-enacting and re-experiencing of the original Revelation at Sinai. Since then Chabad Houses all over the world have made a big push to get folks to come to hear the reading of the Torah that day. Ice cream parties and blintzes and cheesecake at the Kiddush are just some of the fringe benefits of participation.

The night before there are creative learning opportunities for all-night study. At Chabad Uptown we will be offering a mix of discussions, lectures, meditations and melodies. Here is a quick overview of the schedule for the night (Tuesday, May 30). There will be a Holiday Melody and Meditation session, followed by services and dinner, during which there will be a panel discussion, followed by a lecture, a lighting round lay led presentation, and concluding with a dialogue about the origin of the Torah. Chabad of Metairie will be having a similar program.

The next morning, (Wednesday, May 31,) Jews of all ages and stages are invited to participate in the reading of the Ten Commandments and dairy Kiddush that follows at both locations. We look forward to celebrating the most important moment in our history together with you and the rest of the community!

I want to take this opportunity to extend congratulations to Arnie Fielkow, who has just been appointed as the incoming CEO of the New Orleans Jewish Federation. Arnie is a true friend and a mensch in every way. We look forward to working together with him and everyone else at the JFED for the continued betterment of our New Orleans Jewish community!

On a somber note, I hope that you will join us on Wednesday evening (May 24 at 7 PM) for the Memorial Event for Dr. David Kaufmann. It will be a meaningful way to honor and commemorate an important figure in the community, who served in a leadership capacity for over 30 years.

Heartfelt condolences to Caron Bleich upon the passing of her mother, Mrs. Dorothy Joseph. 

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


In the weeks and days leading up to the Six Day War in 1967 the Jewish world was in a panic. Visions of a Holocaust repeat, G-d forbid, were at the forefront of many minds, just over 20 years after the end of that unspeakable era for our people. The Israeli government was preparing parks and open spaces as potential locations for burial grounds for the expected casualties. The lone voice of hope and encouragement was the Rebbe. He declared over and over that “the Guardian of Israel does not slumber” and that a miraculous victory was on hand. He also launched the Tefillin campaign as an antidote to the threat of war, explaining that the Talmud connects the Mitzvah of Tefillin with striking fear into the heart of the enemy. You can see more about this in the following video: and read more about the Tefillin campaign here:

Since that day 50 years ago, many millions of Jewish men over Bar Mitzvah have wrapped Tefillin because of the campaign, including many who made regular commitments to wrapping Tefillin as well as hundreds of thousands who acquired their own Tefillin to use them daily. The Tefillin campaign has become the symbol of Chabad’s style of Judaism on-the-spot for people on-the-go. Whether on the streets of New York, at the Kotel, Ben-Gurion Airport, Canal St. in New Orleans, or hundreds of other spots around the globe, there is the experience of being asked by a (usually) young Chabadnik, “Excuse me sir, would you like to put on Tefillin.” Every Chabad Yeshiva student spends his Friday afternoons visiting people to put on Tefillin with them.

We are approaching the 50th anniversary of the amazing miracles of the Six Day War (you can learn more about it in the current JLI course being offered by Chabad of Metairie). Just a few days before that is the 50th anniversary of the Tefillin campaign. In honor of this milestone I am launching a personal challenge to put on Tefillin with my Jewish brothers who do not (yet) regularly wrap Tefillin every day at least 50 times between now and Shavuot (Tuesday night, May 30). I am going to keep a running log on Facebook (@MendelRivkin) using the hashtag #50Tefillin (hopefully with some photos). If you are a Jewish male over 13 and you do not yet regularly wrap Tefillin every day, please let me know if you would like to participate in the #50Tefillin campaign.

We all know that the need protection is still there. Israel still faces many security threats and challenges as do Jews around the world. Let’s do our part by getting on board at the #50Tefillin Campaign. Besides it’s a Mitzvah and there is nothing more compelling than that! Looking forward to “wrapping with my brothas.” Hit me up and let’s get it going!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Airing Some Clean Laundry

One of the hallmarks of observant Jewish life is modesty, which includes keeping one’s personal business – low key. You won’t see much of observant Jewish relationships being broadcast on Facebook or other forms of social media. We try to keep these things understated. We don’t even air our clean laundry in public…

An interesting example of this can be found in the standard text used in Chabad wedding invitations, originally composed by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding to our Rebbe. The first Hebrew letter of each of the four paragraphs form the acrostic Ahava – the Hebrew word for love. However he was careful to make sure that printed version did not have those letters in bold. So the love is there, but it is subtle.

All that being said, allow me to share a special personal occasion in our family with you, while keeping it subtle. This week Malkie celebrated a milestone birthday. In an era, when many young people spend one or even two decades of adulthood trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up, it is refreshing to see a person with a sense of direction, who has accomplished much and influenced many.

The sages declare that the ultimate good person is one who is pleasing to G-d and pleasing to their fellow man. I feel very fortunate to have such a person at my side. We have much to be thankful for in our lives. Hashem has blessed us with a wonderful family and community. None of that happens in a vacuum. On our wedding night, my grandfather (Zaidy Rivkin) advised me in Russian, “Marriage is not a pound of raisins.” Meaning, that life requires effort and with hard work and Hashem’s blessing one can achieve. I can say with certainty, that the vast majority of what we have, is thanks to her and I am merely along for the ride in a supporting role.

So I am sure that all of our friends will join me in wishing Malkie a year (and lifetime) of good health, nachas, prosperity and spiritual growth, along with continued success in her important work as one of the Rebbe’s emissaries to our community.  The rest of what I have to say will be kept between us…

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin  

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